A new beginning usually signals a committed or forced ending. They are inseparably related. Being born again implies a death first. Transformation implies a diminishing or dying that gives birth to newness or life — a metamorphosis. It is no surprise that in many of the epistles, the Apostle Paul mentions dying about as much as living (Romans 6:1–11; Colossians 3:3–10). He understood that you cannot really have one without the other.
That inferential linking of “death first before living” is too often forgotten. The sequence is clear in the mind and words of Jesus. We lose ourselves before we are found. We deny ourselves and take up our cross before we follow Jesus in a liberating way. We humble ourselves first before we are exalted. We become poor in spirit before we become rich in God and inherit His kingdom. We start last to end up first. This is not only the process of Jesus thinking and speaking, but is the model of His life: He died and rose. The rising didn’t come without the dying.
So we pray for revival and renewal, which both start with “re.” The “re” indicates we want something that once existed but has escaped us or has never been our experience in the first place. The prayer for revival is a tacit acknowledgement that we want things differently than they are. What might not be in the mind of the person praying is the inevitable death or subtraction that precedes revival. The prayer for revival should come with a humble awareness that things must change — things that I may not want to change or have the courage to change, things that God alone can change.
The history of revivals reveals this typical sequence: social and spiritual conditions are miserable; efforts to change conditions prove fruitless or inadequate; conviction is gripping either in the church, in society or both; repentance is deep and profound; the Spirit renews or revives key leaders or groups; the social and spiritual conditions are improved; and growth in the church results. The Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings, the Swedish and Welsh revivals, and others followed this pattern in general or in unwavering consistency.
Discontentment with conditions seems to fit the mindset of most people who pray for revival today. There is no question about that. In any prayer meeting when the word “revival” is part of the conversation or prayer, there is a clear sense that things are broken and need fixing either in the church, society or both. The part about “gripping conviction and deep repentance” of the person praying often escapes notice. The person often prays and then returns to life as usual. We then end up with more of what we are currently experiencing. The sequence sadly becomes more like this: social and/or spiritual conditions are miserable; human efforts to change conditions prove fruitless or inadequate; people pray for revival; conditions remain largely unchanged; society and the church experience no significant change; so there is more prayer for revival . . .
If you follow the sequence, you will notice there is a significant middle part that is missing — gripping conviction and profoundly deep confession and repentance. Death is missing. Personal awareness that revival must lead me to my own dying and grief-induced confession and repentance must play a part in our prayer.
Anytime I am approached by a person discouraged by the political, social climate or even the tepid condition of the church, I want to say, “Let’s pray for revival.” When I have said that, I have never been turned down. But I am not sure that my invitee knows what that entails. Daniel (Daniel 9) and Ezra (Ezra 9) seemed to be clean servants of God. But that did not keep them from profound confession that includes the personal pronoun “we” in their prayer.
I invite you to join me in prayer for revival. But, if you understand what that means, you will understand that the part we play is substantial — not only as praying people, but as people in need of dying and changing. So here is my invitation to you: “Let’s pray for revival.”
BISHOP MATTHEW THOMAS has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.3